Being friends with someone who is chronically ill presents unique challenges along with unique benefits. A chronically ill person may have sensitive feelings and be easily hurt. On the other hand, they may be very sensitive to the feelings of others, making them a particularly kind and empathetic person in which to confide. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of five ways in which you might be a blessing to a person who lives with chronic illness.
1. Make specific offers to help. “Let me know if I can do anything” is a nice sentiment, but it can be way too overwhelming to the chronically ill. There may be many things we are behind on; to choose one to ask for help with can be daunting to say the least. Instead, offer to make a meal, run an errand or watch your friend’s kids for a couple of hours. Don’t forget running the vacuum or cleaning the tub! These are the concrete, real things we need help with that we probably wouldn’t ask our best friend to do! If you can’t think of anything, check out Lisa J. Copen’s book, “Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend.” It’s packed with practical and fun ideas.
2. If you say you’re going to be there – be there! There is so much we can’t count on in our chronically ill world. Our bodies continually let us down. If we are living with mental illness, sometimes we can’t depend on rational thoughts or stable emotions. We make plans and have to cancel them due to flare-ups. Friends fade away. Modern medicine fails to provide answers to our physical pain. So, don’t make that offer to “be there for anything” if you don’t really mean it. There is little worse than calling on a friend who has repeatedly offered to help, only to be turned down. It’s not easy for us to ask for help. We may have struggled for hours, if not days, to get to the point where we’ve swallowed our pride and are finally asking. If you do have to say no, please do so in the kindest, most apologetic manner you can muster.
3. Be sensitive when offering advice and opinions. Chances are your chronically ill friend has heard plenty of unsolicited anecdotes about how someone’s uncle’s sister’s nephew’s gardener tried green tea with moringa and it cured what ailed them. If you come across some information you think might be new and useful to them, wait for an appropriate opening and gently ask if you might share it. If your friend accepts your offer, fine. But if they decline, let it go. Don’t push it. Please. The same goes for giving your opinion. If my friend is talking about something that is bothering them, before responding I always ask, “Would you like my opinion?” They may or may not say yes. Maybe they just need to vent, and they don’t want me to try to fix it for them. If they don’t ask for your opinion, keep it to yourself.
4. Don’t assume your friend always wants to talk about their illness(es). Sometimes we just want to be regular people. Even just for a little while. Even if it’s totally out of the realm of possibility. Bring over a funny movie to watch, or a fun board game. Play cards. Binge on ice cream. Organize a girl’s night in if your friend can’t go out. Take care of all the arrangements so she doesn’t have any added stress and can just enjoy herself.
5. Love them. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times.” Not sometimes. Not just the good times, or the convenient times, or the pretty times. All times. The painful, tearful, emotional, hurting, crying, ugly, sweet, touching, soft, wonderful times. All times. Love them.